New plans to reduce staff shortage in childcare

In early September, the Minister of Social Affairs and Employment Karien van Gennip sent a letter to Parliament with a set of measures to address the increasing staff shortage in childcare in the Netherlands. The plan aims to reduce stress, from multiple fronts, on a sector that has recently experienced a spike in demand and not enough increase in available personnel. Childcare organizations face a challenge in the short and medium term to secure sufficient quality service to young families while providing adequate working conditions to employees, and attracting more workers to the sector.

Since 2015, the number of childcare workers has grown by 45 percent, a sharp increase that amounts to around 115.000 employees in the country. Yet despite this surge, the demand for childcare has grown even further than the offer, and there is a current deficit of 5.000 employees to provide sufficient service for the families who need it.

According to research by ABN AMRO, four in ten vacancies in childcare work were not filled in 2021; that is 37 percent, compared to 24 percent in 2020. In 2022, according to data from a quarterly survey done by Kinderopvang werkt!, the number of childcare organizations dealing with staff shortages has increased further compared to earlier years; it now stands at 72 percent in daycare, 75 percent in afterschool care, and 55 percent in toddler care.

The number of childcare employees entering the workforce is still growing, but it is expected to level off soon. In the meantime, parents are increasingly facing longer waiting lists and even closure of childcare centers, forcing them in many cases to look for informal daycare options elsewhere.

It is in response to these issues that minister Van Gennip has proposed the measures, which include a mixture of novel actions and the reuse or extension of others that had been put into practice in the past. Firstly, discounts have been proposed for days of the week with less occupancy rates, namely Wednesdays and Fridays, when parents usually work part-time. Since 90 percent of registrations take place for Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, encouraging parents to make use of childcare services on quiet days can better distribute occupancy and availability throughout the week. Secondly, the minister has proposed the incorporation of qualified newcomers to the Netherlands into the childcare services, including recently arrived status holders and Ukrainian refugees, who can work in reception centers with children speaking other languages. This would reduce the workload of pedagogical staff on one hand, and help newcomers gain work experience and learn Dutch on the other.

Furthermore, actions applied in the past include the extension of the measure that allowed for half of all childcare workers to be student workers, which was set to conclude in July of 2022, but is now extended until July 2024. Before this, only one third of employees were allowed to be students. Other actions include giving more hours to part-time employees willing to take them; trying to stimulate a combination of jobs between education and childcare services; and attracting new workers into the childcare sector as a career, through government funded communication campaigns. Additionally, it has been proposed to relax certain regulations to decrease staff workload, one of them being to reduce the rules for the number of workers that have to be present per number of children, known as the professional-child ratio.

Some associations of childcare organizations have reacted optimistically, and yet with caution, to the proposed measures. Branch association BK is concerned with the cabinet’s intention to make childcare almost free within the next few years. According to the organization, this would dramatically increase the demand, and in consequence the shortage of workers, from 5.000 to 50.000 people. BMK welcomes the measures, and hopes for an agreement resulting in salary increases for childcare employees. These agreements, and others to come, between childcare organizations and the government will need to strike a balance between increasing the number of places while maintaining quality of service, and providing workers with proper and attractive conditions to do their jobs, as well as entice new workers to enter the sector.

Written by Juan Álvarez Umbarila